Myles Horton’s Organizing Advice


While reading the essay “On Building a Social Movement” in Myles Horton, The Myles Horton Reader: Education for Social Change, ed. Dale Jacobs (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2003), I came across this insightful passage:

It’s been my experience that, to get started, you have to have unannounced meetings or you can’t have a meeting. What you’ve got to do is to find a man back there that’ll get a few people together at his house… and talk to one or two people, when there’s not anybody around. You have to build it up, in little house meetings. You don’t have a meeting; meetings are the worst way in the world, because that’s an open invitation to politicians to come in and take over. That’s their meat, that’s their game. Don’t play their game. You know, set up your own rules of the game. You know, when you were talking about one community wanting a school? Now what you’ve got to find is somebody needs to go in to a place like that, somebody that’s preferably a native, or known to these people, or somebody that’s related to them, even better; and go in and talk to somebody until they tell you the truth of the situation. And then, you win their confidence, and say, well, you get three or four other people together, and they’ll say, maybe these people are afraid to talk to a stranger, but I’ll see. You finally get through, and you meet two or three more people, and you build up very slowly, and these people are the people you want to reach. And then they begin, and if they’re doing something, and they ask for your help, you give help to them–then you’ve got it made. But you have to keep it kind of underground, not too open, and that’s for two reasons. One was the reason you gave where they come and take over. And the other is, these people aren’t going to talk if those people are around. So you’ve got to work with the people you’re dealing with.

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